Apoproteins of Mr 38 000, 32 000 and 26 000 are found in surfactant isolated from rat lungs. The surfactant isolated from monkey lungs, on the other hand, contains the 38 kDa apoprotein and not the 32 and 26 kDa apoproteins. These preparations of pulmonary surfactant contain, in addition, several serum proteins. We have used a combination of salt- and sucrose-density gradient centrifugations to isolate and further purify surfactant from the washings of rat lungs. Thus, a preparation of pulmonary surfactant was obtained which contained exclusively the 38, 32, 26 and 10-12 kDa apoproteins, and which was rich in phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylglycerol. Using an immunoassay and an immunoblotting technique, it was established that the 38, 32 and 26 kDa apoproteins are not serum proteins. The surfactant apoproteins of rat and monkey were further subjected to the high-resolution of isoelectric focusing. Thus, rat surfactant apoproteins resolved into 11 bands in the pH range 4.64-5.53. A second-dimensional electrophoresis in a sodium dodecyl sulfate system led to the migration of the 11 bands, separated by first-dimensional isoelectric focusing, into three distinct groups with apparent molecular weights of 38 000, 32 000 and 26 000, respectively. Upon isoelectric focusing, the apoproteins from monkey lung surfactant also separated into several bands in the pH range 5.18-5.82. After electrophoresis in the second dimension as above, these bands migrated as a single group with an apparent molecular weight of 38 000. Neuraminidase treatment of rat surfactant apoproteins, and subsequent IEF, led to the disappearance of several low-pI variants with a concomitant increase in the amounts of higher-pI variants. Thus, the sialic acid content of surfactant apoproteins accounts for, in large part, the observed charge heterogeneity.